From Harvest Rain is another entertaining, family-oriented production of a Shakespeare comedy. It keeps almost enough of the text to satisfy Bard buffs and plays up the comic elements uproariously to keep the groundlings endlessly amused, while keeping everyone’s toes tapping with a strong musical component of popular ’80s numbers.
Director Terri Brabon shows great ingenuity in her concept of the play and her deployment of the cast. Played out on a narrow strip with seating on both sides, the production makes use of tall structures at each end of the stage to provide ministages and dramatic entrance points. Most memorable is Sarah McCoy’s regal and gothic entrance with her followers down a frighteningly steep set of stairs, while a recurring theme on stage left is the performers’ platform in the “Elephant Karaoke Bar”. Josh McIntosh deserves full credit for the production design, involving multiple uses for these two towers.
The cast work very well as a team, and there are many splendid performances. Peter Cottrell is a most effective Malvolio, both as imperious steward and grinning swain. Grant Couchman is a perfect Sir Toby Belch, of almost Falstaffian quality. Nick Backstrom is a very tough bovver-boy Antonio (in stark contrast to his previous role on this stage as a shortpants-wearing schoolboy). Peter Laughton acts and sings most entertainingly as the clown, Feste. Abigail Gallagher as Viola and Jason Chatfield as her separated brother Sebastian are each convincing in their roles. Sir Toby’s partners-in-crime Leigh Walker as Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Tim O’Connor as Fabian (made up to look like the long-forgotten singer of that name), as well as Bil Campbell Hurry as Maria, are a marvellous comic combination. Chris Kellett’s Duke Orsino is suitably aristocratic and love-lorn, while Sarah McCoy as the object of his affections, Olivia, shows a fine contrast between her contempt for most of those about her, and her growing affection for the messenger boy, Cesario.
Completing the cast are Joel Dullroy, Stephen Geronimos, Kate Hickey, Vicki Millar, Naomi Price, Beau Quailey and David Waller, who rock their way through the show with talent, dedication and obvious enjoyment, as does veteran Brisbane performer “Hugh Taylor”, whom it is a delight to see in the spotlight in the karaoke bar, as well as in various character cameo roles.
The production includes all kinds of nonsense with bicycles, roller skates, train noises and the like, but not too much to be distracting. Highlights of the show include the various fights between aggressive and reluctant pugilists (well done Jason King), the madhouse scene, the mischievous quartet’s trickery of Malvolio (Shakespeare’s very naughty joke in this scene was missed by most of the youthful audience) and of course the rhythmic music. While it cannot be said that “it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound that breathes upon a bank of violets”, it works well in this fun-filled production, which has the potential to be a great introduction to Shakespeare.
(Memo to teachers: Never underestimate your influence. Your words and actions can live on in your pupils’ minds for decades to come. Seeing this play brought back vividly that I was introduced to it as a 14-year-old by an enthusiastic English teacher who charismatically took us through the story and the characters explaining that Duke Orsino was in love with love, while the Countess Olivia was in love with her grief and acting out Malvolio’s attempts to woo Olivia with his yellow stockings, crossed garters and uncomfortable smile.)